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Mauchline Transfers

I collect Mauchline Ware and interested in how the transfer plates were produced as I think there is a connection between photography and screen printing and acid engraving of the plates from which the transfers were made, in fact a process similar to making microchips.

I have one of the plates and know how the transfers were applied. As there are around 5000 transfers from around the world and about 800 different wooden objects, it is possible to have quite a large collection without duplicates!

Q Does anyone know the dates at which it began? Mauchline Ware was produced between 1830 and 1930 and photography started in the 1840s. I'd also like to know how the images were etched on to steel or copper plates. I cannot believe this was done by hand and wonder if a photographic technique was known at the time.

Kenneth Macleod
email: kcmacleod@skynet.be  
www.mauchlineware.com (click on "Finishes" in the left hand column
to access the database)

A Virtually all illustrative work pre 1830 was on copper and everything after that date was produced as steel engraving. Steel plates meant you could produce far more copies from one plate as copper wore out very quickly and required

The printing plates are hardened steel engraved plates, produced with a burin for all the 'wiggly' lines and a ruling machine was used for all the fine parallel lines. There is no etching involved in this process. Etching is either done with acid or drypoint, you raise a burr to hold the ink, but this wears away very quickly. Etching near always involves copper plates.

The engravers could use photos or a drawing overlaid onto the plates to give them key points but I don't think photography has much to do with the production of the plates. It is interesting that the plates were not produced in reverse. This is because the print was printed on to a a very thin tissue paper which was glued onto the surface of the wooden item, printed side down, when the item is varnished the paper seems to disappear, although sometime you can see the ghost of the paper if you look carefully.

Laurance Black

A I stumbled across the following process while researching another project and thought it was pertinent to the original question. It is from The Mechanics' magazine, museum, register, journal, and gazette Volume 17 1832:

Method of transferring prints from paper to wood

Sir, - A method of transferring lithographic prints from paper to wood, was discovered some time back in France; the process has been imported into this country, and is at present estensively employed for the purpose of ornamenting white wood articles of various kinds, and forms a favourite amusement of the fair sex.

It having occurred to me that a brief description of the process might be acceptable to some of your readers, I beg leave to place the following at your disposal.

In the first place, the article on which the print is to be transferred, should receive a coat of spa-or, of the transfer varnish, allowing a sufficient time for it to become dry; this greatly facilitates and improves the transfer, and also preserves the wood from soil or stains during the process. Having cut away as much as possible of the superfluous paper from about the print, place it in a vessel of clean water until it is completely saturated, which will be in about five or ten minutes; then place it between blotting paper to remove the superabundant water from its surface. This done, with a flat camel's hair brush spread the transfer varnish* equably over the surface of the print, and apply it immediatley to the wood; lay a sheet of writing paper upon it and rub it all over with the hand, using pressure, that the necessary adhesion may take place.

With the fingers, dipped from time to time in water, peel off the paper by continued rubbing, proceeding with more caution as the print begins to appear. The rubbing and washing should be continued until the whole of the paper is removed; when dry, a coat of spa varnish will bring up the print.

If the article is to be polished, continue to apply the varnish until a sufficient body is obtained for that purpose, taking care that each coat is dry previous to the application of the next. When the whole is perfectly dry and hard, take pumice stone in an impalpable powder, and with a piece of serge moistened with water, polish until a smooth even surface is obtained. Then take the finest tripoli, and with a piece of fine cloth and some olive oil, continue the process until a high degree of polish is obtained, when the oil must be wiped off with a soft linen cloth, and the surface cleaned off with starch powder, or with Spanish white.

It is seldom, however, that persons polish their articles themselves, more patience and pratical dexterity being requisite for the success of this process, than falls to the lot of every one; varnishing is, therefore, a distinct occupation, performed by persons who make it their sole business, and who, therefore, attain great skill in the process.

In the above way all kinds of plain or coloured prints may be transferred to wood; but when coloured prints are used, it is necessary to employ an acid solution instead of water, to destroy the size which exists in all papers of coloured prints. For this purpose mix two-thirds of vinegar with one-third water, and with it moisten the back only of the print, proceeding with the transfer as before directed.

The transfer process bears a considerable resemblance to lithographic printing, and it is most likely that the idea was suggested by it. The rationale of the process is as follows: the paper being saturated with moisture, does not unite with the transfer varnish, but the ink being of a greasy texture is impervious to the water, and is, therefore, taken hold of by the varnish, and is securely fastened to the wood; the paper not being so held is washed away with comparative ease, leaving the ink imprinted upon the wood
Yours &c. W. Baddeley. London, April 3, 1832.

* Prepared by Ackermann, Fullers, Riddle, and others; and to be had at most stationers in town and country.


A This advert for Transfer Varnish, as mentioned in the above letter, appeared in The Edinburgh Review of 1831.


A I can recommend an excellent Collector's Guide to Mauchline Ware by David Trachtenberg and Thomas Keith published 2002 by the Antique Collectors' Club. All colour illustrations and among the detailed appendices are ones that include verses, greetings and mottoes found on Mauchline Ware, lists of the views both in Europe and North America and books published in Mauchline Ware Boards.




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